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Flickr User Frost Museum

A Treasure Trove of Parasitic Wasps

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Flickr User Frost Museum

For the last three decades, scientists in the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste (ACG), a roughly 1000-square-kilometer chunk of forest in northwestern Costa Rica, have been inventorying and rearing hundreds of thousands of caterpillars. With the help of local apprentices, they comb the forests for the critters, pluck them from plants and the ground, and then string them up in plastic bags in a barn. Then, they watch and wait while the caterpillars pupate to see what emerges. 

Sometimes, it’s a moth or a butterfly, exactly as it should be. Other times, though, it’s a wasp whose mother laid her eggs in the caterpillar before the researchers put it in its bag. After hatching, the wasp larvae devour their host from the inside out and emerge from the corpse. 

There are plenty of parasitoid wasps like this out there (some of which we’ve covered before), and last month the researchers announced that there are plenty more where those came from. Their latest paper describes and names almost 200 new species of the wasp genus Apanteles—which until recently had only three known species! Clearly, the team says, scientists have been underestimating the diversity of parasitoid wasps and, as more and more parts of the world are as well-cataloged as the ACG, the total number of species could be mind-boggling. 

Each of these new wasps is only about as long as a fingernail, and most of them are very choosy when it comes to their caterpillar hosts. The researchers found that around 90 percent of the species parasitize just a few (or even a single) type of caterpillar, suggesting the subfamily they come from is more specialized than anyone knew. 

As I wrote at The Week, parasites are not a very popular conservation cause, but many of them are ecologically important. By turning caterpillars and other insects into zombies and living nurseries and then killing them, Apanteles and other parasitoid wasps provide free pest control. In some parts of the world, people release swarms of them to control problem insects. The researchers in the ACG hope that by getting local people involved in their studies, they can show Costa Ricans the value of these wasps and have more allies for protecting their habitat. As a thank you to their many local lay assistants in the field, the team named many of the new species after them—resulting in beautifully tongue-twisting Latin-Latin American hybrid names like Apanteles jorgehernandezi, A. monicachavarriae, A. raulsolorsanoi, A. robertoespinozai, and A. yolandarojasae. 

Primary photo courtesy the Frost Museum flickr page; cc.

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Animals
Australia Zoo Is Taking Name Suggestions for Its Newborn White Koala
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A koala with striking white fur was recently born at the Australia Zoo in Queensland, and she already has an adoring fan base. Now all she needs is a name. As Mashable reports, the zoo is calling on the public for suggestions on what to call the exceptional joey.

The baby, who is one of several newborn koalas living at the zoo, climbed out of her mother’s pouch for the first time not too long ago. When she made her public debut, she revealed a coat of white fur rarely seen in her species. According to the zoo, the koala isn’t albino. Rather, she got her pale shade from a recessive gene inherited from her mother known as a “silvering gene.” Though the light coloration is currently the koala’s defining feature, there’s a good chance she’ll eventually grow out of it and take on the gray-and-white look that’s typical for her species.

For now, the Australia Zoo is celebrating the birth of its first-ever white koala joey by getting the public involved in the naming process. On the post announcing the zoo’s new arrival, commenters have so far suggested Pearl, Snowy, Luna, and Kao (from the Thai word for “white”) as names to match the baby’s immaculate appearance. There are also a few pop culture-related proposals, including Olaf after the character in Frozen and Daenerys in honor of Game of Thrones.

Instead of deciding the koala’s name by popular vote, the zoo will select the winner from their favorite submissions. And with nearly 5000 comments on the original Facebook post to choose from, the joey will hopefully have better luck than the animals named by the public before her. (The Koalay McKoala Face does have a certain ring to it.)

[h/t Mashable]

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Animals
Why Blue Dogs Have Been Roaming Mumbai
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Press TV News Videos, YouTube

Residents of Mumbai began noticing a peculiar sight on August 11: roving stray dogs tinted a light shade of blue. No one knew what to make of these canines, which were spotted in the streets seemingly unharmed but otherwise bucking nature.

Concerned observers now have an answer, but it’s not a very reassuring one. According to The Guardian, the 11 Smurf-colored animals were the result of pollution run-off in the nearby Kasadi River. Industrial waste, including dyes, has been identified as coming from a nearby manufacturing plant. Although dogs are known to swim in the river, the blue dye was also found in the air. After complaints, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board investigated and found the factory, Ducol Organics Pvt Ltd., was not adhering to regulatory guidelines for waste disposal. They shut off water to the facility and issued a notice of closure last Friday.

“There are a set of norms that every industry needs to follow,” MPCB regional officer Anil Mohekar told The Hindustan Times. “After our sub-regional officers confirmed media reports that dogs were indeed turning blue due to air and water pollution, we conducted a detailed survey at the plant … We will ensure that the plant does not function from Monday and the decision sets an example for other polluting industries, which may not be following pollution abatement measures.”

Animal services workers who retrieved five of the dogs were able to wash off the dye. They reported that no other health issues were detected.

[h/t The Guardian]

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